Would Business Intelligence by Another Name Be Better?

Ann All

Updated · Dec 16, 2010

I must confess, I get tired of all the effort put into trying to define nebulous IT terms like “cloud computing.” Thus my initial response to a post by Rob Collie on the =powerpivot(pro) blog, in which he suggests it might be time to rename traditional business intelligence , was an eye roll.

Collie, a 14-year Microsoft veteran who helped create PowerPivot and is now CTO for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) and consulting company called Pivotstream, says business intelligence (BI) has never delivered on the “intelligence” part of its name. Using the “I” word, he says, “sets expectations impossibly high relative to what traditional methods and toolsets can deliver.”

It turns out Collie doesn’t think PowerPivot should be lumped in with other products under the BI umbrella because he believes it offers a more flexible alternative to traditional BI, one that is more accessible to rank-and-file workers. So what starts as a semantics discussion turns into a marketing spiel. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

I did find it a bit jarring, though, to cast a discussion around renaming BI around a single product. Perhaps reader Boyan Penev did too, as he wrote “Whether PowerPivot gives more flexibility to users to make better decisions, thus making them look even more intelligent is another topic …”

Penev also suggested BI might be more accurately called “decision support,” a term that several other readers seemed to like as well

Big deal, I concluded. A name is mostly just about marketing. Or is it?

I had to wonder after reading a DecisionPath Consulting study called How Effectively Are Companies Using Business Analytics?” The somewhat depressing conclusion was most companies aren’t using analytics very effectively, and it’s one I’ll address further in future posts.

But back to the name thing. DecisionPath wondered how folks refer to “the analysis of business information to support better decision making and improve business results.” When they asked the business people responding to the survey (not IT) this question, “reporting” was the most frequently selected option.

(Respondents could select more than one answer, and “business intelligence” and “analytics” also each garnered 64 percent of responses. Decision support systems got 36 percent.)

Since today’s BI applications offer so many capabilities beyond traditional reporting, some companies “might be missing the opportunity to better leverage true 21st century business analytics,” the report’s authors conclude.

When asked to describe their company’s current use of BI, reporting again got the biggest response, at 64 percent. Far fewer described BI as “a mission-critical system that drives processes and profits” (36 percent) or “a strategic system that provides a competitive advantage” (27 percent).

If BI doesn’t need a new name, it almost certainly seems to need a new image among users.


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    Ann All

    Public relations, digital marketing, journalism, copywriting. I have done it all so I am able to communicate any information in a professional manner. Recent work includes creating compelling digital content, and applying SEO strategies to increase website performance. I am a skilled copy editor who can manage budgets and people.

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